I really wasn't sure what to expect out of Chattanooga when Rob and I hit the road on Friday morning. I had heard from so many people, "You'll love Chattanooga, it's a great town!" And friends who had competed in either the half or the full Ironman before told me, "Oh man, those hills! Goodluck!" I'll put it this way, neither piece of advice was wrong.
|Swim course photo, conveniently taken from the run course 😉|
|Sleepy Nye-Nye time|
|I miss running all over Champaign, IL with this girl like you wouldn't believe!|
We finally rolled into Chattanooga around 11:30 on Friday night and hit the hay right away. I had some work to do the next day in prep for Sunday Race Day!
I snuck out of bed to let Rob sleep while I tinkered with my bike and headed out for a small shake out ride and run. I wanted to get the lay of the land since we arrived in the dark, so I took the main street into downtown Chattanooga and was immediately greeted with the smell of good ole BBQ, chic coffee shops on every corner, and trendy, delicious looking breweries scattered around town. This might be the hardest part of every single race weekend for me. Exploring a new town is never complete without enjoying the areas cuisine and it's usually the one thing I have to hold back on until after the race.
One thing was for sure, by the time I finished my run I was DRIPPING in sweat. It wasn't even 10am by the time I hit the shower and I had a hard time cooling down even after I was out of the shower. And I was tickled pink. Let it get hotter than Hades for all I cared.
Rob and I took off for the Ironman Village and to check out as much of the downtown area as we could. The Tennessee River was absolutely gorgeous. The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge was seasoned yet equally as rugged and hearty as the Market Street bridge that stood right next to it. The quaintness and beauty of this town was getting better with every site I saw. I can't believe I get to race here tomorrow.
|Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge|
|Market Street Bridge|
|Shortest distance from point A-B is a straight line.|
Unless you find yourself on this sidewalk.
While we were checking out the sites on the Walnut Street Bridge, a group of people walked by us carrying what seemed to be coolers on wheels. The next thing you knew, we were handed 2 free chicken sandwiches from a few Chik-Fil-A employees out promoting for the big weekend. Of course you know Rob and I, we can't say no to free anything:
|"Eat Mor Chikin"|
We also stumbled upon one of those adorable little coffee shops that happened to have one of my most favorite signs in front:
And I finally grew enough courage to ask a stranger to take a picture of the 2 of us so we wouldn't have to selfie it:
|Of course the guy I asked barely spoke English.|
We finally made our way to the expo and I went through the motions of the check-in process. I also had to check-in my bike because everyone had to be shuttled to the start on race morning. Adding bikes to that mix would be a huge cluster. There was just a slight problem with this setup. The entire country was in the middle of getting slammed with some serious thunder storms over the next 24 hours, and Chattanooga was right in the middle of that path. Seriously. If you looked at the radar, the most intense parts of the storms were consistently over Chattanooga for the entire 24 hours. I'm not going to lie, I was fully prepared for them to cancel this race entirely. But of course, until the final call is made, you do what the Ironman officials tell you and check-in your bike anyways. Even if that means you are absolutely petrified that the 25mph overnight winds could cause your bike to crash into others and get damaged. I covered my chain with 3 separate plastic bags to keep as much water off of it as possible. I mean, it was going to get wet regardless. But if we could avoid torrential downpours on my new Ice Friction chain, I was going to give it my best shot.
|Spectathlete found his favorite sign of the weekend!|
After I walked out of transition and checked in my bike, Rob grabbed me and said, "Heather Jackson was just giving a speech in the village somewhere." WHAT. ROB, TAKE ME TO HER NOW! I MUST SEE HER! By the time we got to the Village her speech was over but we spotted her chatting with a few people who had conveniently made a small line right next to her. Of course, I hopped in line. In case you need a little bit of background info, Heather Jackson is a pro triathlete and WON Ironman Lake Placid when I was there racing last year. She continued her impressive racing in Kona 2016 and took 3rd place, behind some of the World's biggest powerhouse triathletes, Swiss Daniela Ryf and Australian Mirinda Carfrae. She was the first American female to take the podium in Kona in the last 10 years. In a nutshell, she's a badass. To say I was starstruck would be an understatement.
|They don't get much more down to earth than Heather Jackson|
When I introduced myself and put out my hand for a shake, she gave me a look as if to say, "You want to meet me? But why?" I told her how wonderful and talented I thought she was. I told her I was on the race course with her in Lake Placid last year (only finished slightly behind her 😂) And all she could say to me was, "Ohhhh! Thank you, that's so sweet of you!" Sweet? Lady, you're a speed demon. I should be bowing down to you right now. Rob even piped in and noted how awesome it was to watch her break the tape in Lake Placid last year. She giggled a sheepish giggle and thanked us for the kind words. I thanked her for being a constant inspiration to myself and thousands of women around the world and said my goodbyes.
It was hard to come back down to earth after meeting her, but it was time to lay low and put my feet up before race day the next day. Rob and I went back to the house and relaxed a little and before we knew it was time to meet Beth and Jordan at dinner. My college roommate and her husband live in Knoxville and spent the day hiking in the area and were sticking around for race day tomorrow! HOW DOES A GIRL LIKE ME GET SO LUCKY TO HAVE THE SUPPORT SYSTEM I DO!? The next day was about to be Jordan's first time witnessing a triathlon, so he truly had no idea what to expect. Beth and Rob on the other hand, well.. let's just say they've had their fair share over the years. This was another walk in the park for them.
|Burgers and Beers and Laughs!|
|Rookie-dog even came to dinner!|
As Rob and I went to bed that night, the storms were in full swing and it truly sounded like the world was ending. Lightning strikes lit up our room like the 4th of July and the rain was coming down in sheets. Falling asleep was next to impossible, but it wasn't long before I heard my 3:15 alarm.
Sunday - RACE DAY!
The first thing I noticed before I even put my feet on the ground was the silence. There was no crazy wind. There was no sound of rain on the roof. There was purely.. silence. I ran to the front door and stood on the porch and saw that the rain had stopped and the ground was practically dry. Yep, you heard me, DRY. I did a little happy dance on the front porch while I snapped pictures of the DRY EARTH to my friends back home. I'm pretty sure Rob was even a little excited about the weather because he was up and walking around before his alarm clock went off.
Rob dropped me off at transition so I could do my thing while he parked the car. To my surprise, the transition area didn't take a huge hit during the storm and my bike even seemed unharmed. Transition was a little tight so I made sure to set up using minimal space. Thankfully the bike next to me was MIA so I was able to sneak my shoes into that space.
Rob and I boarded the bus to the swim start (they even shuttled spectators!) and quickly found a small mix up in the swim start organization. We were told that the start would be self seeded and that we would start based on estimated finish lines. When we arrived to the swim start we were greeted with a verrrrry long line and a few angry athletes shouting at us, "You have to go to the end of the line, we got here first!" It didn't take long for a race official to shush the angry athletes and inform everyone that the self seeded start was still in effect and that we were to line up based on estimated swim times. There was one particular lady who was ready to come unglued and I shot her a lovely smile as I walked past her and guestimated where I should start. Rob gave me my goodluck kiss as he departed and took off on the shuttle back to the swim exit. He made the crowds giggle as he yelled back to me, "Love you honey, see you tomorrow!"
The pros took off and we knew there was only 5 minutes before our start. Except 5 minutes turned into 10, and then 15. And finally I started to get antsy and wanted to know what the hold up was. I picked my head up after saying a short prayer for good weather and immediately saw a speed boat fly by me with a turn buoy attached to it. Uhhh, this isn't fair. How are we expected to chase down a turn buoy attached to a speed boat? Then, an announcement from a race official, "I gurantee that you all will have a PR swim today!" But how? The swim was supposed to start heading upstream for 300 yards and then turn around and head downstream the rest of the way. There was a tiny problem: A few of the pro women were struggling to move forward at all while swimming upstream. So the executive decision was made to eliminate the upstream/turn around portion and have us just start the swim downstream right away. Apparently the overnight storms strengthened the current to the point of "gliding" to the swim exit. New swim distance: .8 miles instead of the usual 1.2miles.
I jumped off the dock and immediately noticed the pull of the current. I reached the first buoy in no time and could not believe how quickly I was flying past it. I never fought for position. I never grabbed anyones feet. No one ever touched my feet. The rolling start off the dock made it very easy to swim solo and the current only helped. How long should .8 miles take me? With the current, probably about 23-24 minutes or so. Yea, that sounds right. I felt like I had just jumped in the water when it was time to get out. I heard the announcer at the swim exit and the crowds were thick. I picked my head up and was mere feet away from the stairs to get out of the water. Unlike in Texas, I had to pull myself up onto the stairs. Not to worry, the 15 seconds I spent struggling on the exit stairs didn't get in the way of my my 19 minute swim. WHAT. Talk about a current!
|STEEP run out of the water!|
The steep run out of the water seemed to never end. I passed Beth and Jordan and all I heard was Jordan screaming, "You're doing it! You're doing it!" HA! Kinda, I mean I could have floated that swim and still impressed you I think. Once I hit concrete ground off the ramp, we weaved back and forth and back and forth until we FINALLY entered transition. I checked my transition distance on my watch after the fact and it read .32 miles. Yikes. I took my wetsuit off myself and grabbed my helmet from my bike and I was off. Only one small hiccup. My chain was off my bike. A few years ago this would have unnerved me to the max. Today? I had that chain back on the bike in less than 5 seconds. 4 minutes and 57 seconds isn't the best T1 time, but considering the over quarter mile run out of the water, I'll take it.
|I'm partial to my wetsuit apparently and wanted to take it off myself 😒|
I have grown to have a love/hate relationship with the bike. I love to go fast, really I do. But I have seen far too many gruesome accidents happen right in front of me causing me to swerve around and white knuckle my breaks for me to have the confidence I need on the bike. I can handle bumps in the road, I'm good at knowing how wide or narrow I should take a turn, and taking nutrition at aide stations is a breeze. But I sure as hell don't trust anyone else and their abilities to make such decisions.
Today was no different, I took the first 5 miles to get comfortable and into my groove. There were quite a few turns in those first 5 miles so there was a lot of up and down out of the aero position. But soon I saw the "Welcome to Georgia" sign on the side of the road and something clicked. My first 5 mile split of 16:09 was by far my slowest. It was almost like I had an out of body experience. My speed sensor slid to the bottom of my wheel (I know, next bike upgrade will be a bike computer) so I never knew how fast I was riding. I was just.. riding. Hard. I remember a long time ago Jacqui told me, "The bike should hurt, the whole time." Now, I never truly "hurt" while riding. But there were plenty of times when I normally would have given my legs a break and coasted for a short while in an effort to save my run legs. But today... it was like I had lost control and my legs had a mind of their own. I was calling out, "On your left!" more often than I was hearing it. The rolling hills started and they were truly that, rolling. There were plenty of time I found myself at the top of a hill solely based off of the momentum from the previous downhill.
Just before the halfway mark, we made a left hand turn and were greeted with a concrete wall. A true hill. I must have said something about it because a guy next to me stated, "Oh this hill isn't in the full Ironman, just the half!" Thanks for the tip, dude. I couldn't believe how strong I was. I was flying past people on this hill. Most were struggling to stay upright while I found the top in no time. That hellish winter is paying off.
Less than a mile later I was back into my groove and tucked nice and low when I heard someone scream out a car door, "MEGAN!" I turned my head just in time to see my license plate and bike rack. Rob strikes again! He made his way out to the bike course. I smirked and told myself, "Let's see if you can beat him back to transition 😜"
|Completely unaware that Rob had found me!|
The 2nd half of the bike seemed to fly by. The rolling hills continued and I was ticking off some 13 minute 5 mile splits like I've never seen before. I was feeling great and my legs were responding beautifully. Man, this would have been great to see in Texas. No time to live in the past. I really, really wanted to break my 56 mile bike PR from Steelhead the year prior (2:41 on an extremely flat course). I knew if I could break that on this hilly course, I was doing damn good. Instead, I'd have to settle for a tie. I hopped off that bike with a split of 2:41:58, a 20.75mph average.
I will always envy people that can do a flying dismount off the bike into transition. My legs, my body, my lack of balance and coordination will never allow such a thing. Instead I came to screeching halt at the dismount line and stumbled off my bike and managed to to jog my bike back into transition. I always use this short period of time before I take my bike shoes off to really grasp how my run legs may or may not be working. Today, all systems were a go. T2 made me much happier getting in and out and 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
|Of course I struggled to rack my bike like a newbie 😑|
I swear I've done this before
|Here I come! Only 13.1 to go!|
I was barely out of transition and Beth and Jordan were waiting for my arrival, cheering amuck. It was good to see them again knowing my legs were ready to roll. There was a small out and back portion that we had to run before starting the 2 loop course. Just before I started my first loop I spotted Rob on the river and he was all smiles.
|...And so was I!|
About 100 feet up the hill were Beth and Jordan, once again screaming their faces off.
|Rookie was not interested in the race.|
Between mile 3 and 4, you enter an aide station on the riverwalk. This was by far the most entertaining aide station I'd ever seen. They had created signs and a hand made awning that said "Kona-Nooga." Everyone was dressed in floral island clothing complete with leis and island music. It made me smile knowing that these people understand what that island means to some of the athletes racing. By mile 5, I had hit the first very significant hill and of course Rob, Beth, and Jordan were at the top of it waiting for me. "It's just a little hill!" Beth yelled at me. Yea, remind me to kick your ass at the finish line.
|On the strugglebus up the hill|
|Because, adorable Rookie dog.|
I finished up the rest of lap one with what seemed like ALL climbing. We crossed the Veteran's bridge along with the Walnut Street Pedestrian bridge. And I know that bridges are supposed to come with an uphill AND a downhill, but I swear that these bridges were solely uphill. My legs never felt dead, they just weren't moving. In fact, I felt great! But my miles slowly started to get slower and slower. Every time I tried to kick it into high gear, I maybe gained about 10 seconds a mile. My legs were officially dying out, even though I felt like a million bucks. Lap 2 started and I was determined to keep my finish time as close to 5 hours as possible. I desperately wanted to break 5 hours, but I doubted my legs would let me. The miles ticked by and they got a tad slower and slower. In between the first and second bridge, I spotted Rob one last time. He was across the street of a busy road. He had to whistle to get my attention, but I saw him and couldn't have been happier.
|11 miles down, 2 to go!|
I made the final turn towards home and this was in fact a drastic downhill. It felt great to move at a decent speed again. I entered the finish shoot and gave it my best to sprint to the finish, but like I said earlier.. my legs just didn't want to move. Alas, I made it in 1 hour and 54 minutes. Not as fast as I know I can run, but that's what my legs were made of that day.
|Yep, Rob managed a prime spot at the finish line|
I finished the day with a total time of 5 hours and 3 minutes and 12th in my age group. Not a bad day considering only 12 hours prior I thought the world was about to end and this race wasn't going to happen. The night before Beth asked me what my goal was and I told her I was going to do my best to break 5 hours. When I found the crew at the finish line Jordan asked me, "So what was your finish time?" When he saw my watch that read 5:03 his reaction was priceless. "Well I'll be damned. Great job!" I hope I made his first triathlon experience worth while and enjoyable. And just MAYBE he'll come back to cheer me on again in the future 😁
|"Let's get a picture but don't actually|
touch me because I'm so gross"
|The man behind the camera 💓|
Willing to dodge any obstacle in his way 💦🚆🚗🌀
Beth and Jordan took off and Rob and I crashed for a few hours before we headed out to dinner that night. Dinner was short lived as we both struggled to keep our eyes open. We called it a super early night and got a solid amount of sleep before packing up the car and heading home in the morning.
This town was more than I expected and everything I could have hoped for. The people, so genuine and pure. The sites, absolutely beautiful and unique. I'm so glad Rob and I were able to check out the area before we head back in September with the RyBread crew. And I sure as hell can't wait to race in this town again. I'll be sure to swim the current, roll with the bike hills, and find a way to make sure the run hills don't bite me again. Chattanooga, I'll be seeing you soon.